10 Lessons Learned One Year After Quitting My Corporate Job

Woman on Red Sea beach in Massawa Eritrea

Let’s just say, my first year since quitting the cubicle life did not go as planned. At all. It’s October 7th – exactly one year and one day since I left my corporate finance job – and as I type this one-year reflection, I’m sitting on my parents’ couch. Not exactly what I had in mind one year prior…

I had a rough plan for my first year post-corporate. I was leaving to Germany for two months a few weeks after I left that miserable rat race resigned. From there, I would travel all of Morocco before heading back to the US. Then, the real fun would begin. Three months of backpacking through Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, where I would finally, finally accomplish my dream of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and frolicking into the sunset with a herd of llamas in colorful ponchos. Then, I’d head back to the good ol’ U S of A, take maybe a month break from traveling, and jet off to somewhere in the Mediterranean to hang out with the Clooneys on Lake Como enjoy the summer. It. Would. Be. Great.

Well…the two months in Germany happened. At least there’s that?

Morocco got cut short on account of yours truly not realizing it gets cold as hell there she should maybe bring a sweater or two anywhere during winter. Major fail. It was OK – I still had my plan to frolic with llamas in Peru! *heart eyes emoji*

Well, one major falling out with my sister (who was going on the trip with me) about a week before departure, plus no energy to replan the whole trip for solo travel within a week, all while putting up with my mother’s daily hourly pleads not to go and get myself killed andddd…… llama frolicking got canceled. If Morocco was a “major fail,” then I don’t even know what level of fail this was.

I had poured weeks and weeks into planning that three-month-itinerary, I had told everyone I knew about it, I even started learning Spanish again. And just like that, one week before departure, it suddenly wasn’t happening. I felt sad every day, wasn’t speaking to my sister, and had nothing to do now that the trip preparations came to a halt. 

When things aren’t going my way, my reaction is to think of anything beneficial to simultaneously do with that time, so a period of my life doesn’t feel wasted when looking back at it. So, I:

  • Removed all my social media. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook. Wait, does anyone even use that anymore?. At first it was because I couldn’t stand to see my travel-influencer-filled feed right after my canceled trip, but I ended up loving and extending my social media fast.
  • Got back in shape. Corporate life is not at all conducive to staying fit or healthy, and in my last year of working alone, I gained 10 pounds. I set out a goal to get back to my college weight, researched all about calories, macros, micros, serving sizes, and everything in between. Without starving myself and without going on a single run, I reached my goal in five months and felt like my old self again.
  • Focused on the rest of my health. Early to bed, early to rise. Two liters of water a day. A strict facial cleansing and moisturizing regimen. Multivitamin supplements. The works! I made the goal of becoming “more zen” this year, and I even signed up for yoga, something totally not up my alley.
  • Started this blog. Travel blogging was a seed that was planted in my mind years ago, shortly after I realized that corporate America was not for me. I never really gave it a go, but with no full-time job and no South America trip, the idea crept its way back to the forefront of my mind. This time, I couldn’t shake it off. I love to travel more than pretty much anything else I could do with my time, and I probably love talking about it second to that. So I decided to give it a go, in hopes of learning skills and using creative parts of my brain I had shut off since probably middle school – skills like light web design, creative writing, photograph editing, and online marketing. So far, I’m actually enjoying it even more than I thought I would!
  • Took my first fully-solo trip. Even though my dream trip was canceled and postponed for “later in life,” it taught me a lesson. I never again want to feel like a trip depends on another person’s presence. Though I was willing to backpack South America solo, one week wasn’t enough turn-around time to comfortably replan the entire trip and leave me confident enough in myself to ward off all the naysayers. It was easy for them to get into my head about why I shouldn’t go alone, because I had technically never traveled anywhere entirely alone. So? I changed that, and booked a trip to a place I knew I’d feel comfortable and that no naysayer would convince me out of.
  • Visited my parents’ homeland of Eritrea for the first time.

All in all, though my first year since leaving the corporate path went NOwhere like I had hoped, and though I am still disappointed about how the year went, I learned some valuable lessons along the way:

1. Your Health is Priority #1

You only get one body. You only get one life. Nothing – and I mean NOTHING – is more important than taking care of it the best you can. 

  • Don’t miss out on sleep for your “career.” Your job is supposed to serve YOU, as a financial means to create the life you want for yourself. NOT the other way around.  In college, everyone joked, “I can sleep when I’m dead,” but in all seriousness, lack of sleep over long periods of time can lead to serious health problems.
  • Don’t give yourself unnecessary stress. Sometimes stress is unavoidable, but not all the time. Differentiate what stress points don’t need to be in your life, and then cut them out. This might mean spending less time with a certain person, walking away from a specific job, or teaching your own self to worry less about the future.
  • Don’t consider donuts at work breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner (I’m guilty.). I know you’re busy. You only have a set amount of hours in a day, so you need to prioritize what gets your time. Your health should get your time. Try this: cook healthy food in bulk on Sunday and eat it for the rest of the week.
  • Don’t stay inside all day, sitting in a chair, or in your car, or on your couch. Walk at least 30 minutes a day – that’s really all it takes – to get the blood pumping and muscles moving.

We as a society have decided that all these things (lack of sleep, constant stress and busy-ness, calling fake food a meal, a sedentary lifestyle) are normal when they ARE NOT. Focus on your health, because once it’s gone, it might not ever come back.

2. Don’t Let Age Pressure You

As a society, we put meaning on (and therefore pressure) on ages. For example:

  • You’re 18 = you are an adult. 
  • You’re 30 = you should have a promising career.
  • You’re 35 = you better have a kid already. 

Do you ever stop and realize that some people don’t even know their ages? Like, literally, there are TONS of people on this planet RIGHT NOW (and throughout history!) who only have a guess of how many years they’ve been alive. AND THEY’RE JUST FINE. 18 only means adulthood because we’ve chosen it to. Why can’t 20 be adulthood, like it was chosen to be in Japan? (Fun fact: they are lowering it to 18 in Japan in 2020, further showing how fluid age-related concepts are!)

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. It’s never too late to start on a new path. Just because you’ve spent the past X years doing something you don’t like doesn’t mean you should spend the future X years ALSO doing something you don’t like.

So try your best not to stress about what “everyone else” seems to be doing by fill-in-the-blank age, and simply focus on living the best life you can in the present. After all, tomorrow is NEVER promised, and the greatest risk of all is “the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later” (this quote from Randy Kosimar is one of the quotes that helped me quit my job).

3. Avoid Stress at All Costs

I was quite horrified when I found out how much we as a society downplay the danger of stress. In fact, I’d say we actually praise stress and use it to judge how hard of a worker someone is. If you’re not stressed, you must be lazy, or have it easy, or not be going places with your life. I personally can attest to coworkers border-line bragging about how much more stressed they are than others. Remind me again, why are we bragging about having more of something bad?

I’ve actually always referred to myself as someone who “doesn’t get stressed easily,” because I tend to remain calm in pretty much any situation. But little did I know! Stress doesn’t only mean an external reaction of frenzy or intense worry. Stress could simply be:

  • Juggling racing thoughts at once (even if you’re “good at multitasking”).
  • Frustration from small, daily situations (like sitting in traffic).
  • Becoming upset, angry, or annoyed regularly (whether at people or at situations or at both).

Sometimes, stress is necessary. If you’re going through a break-up, it’s going to be stressful, but you can’t avoid it. If you’re juggling a part-time job with studies, it’s going to be stressful, but you can’t avoid it. Learn to differentiate what stress is necessary, and what stress isn’t. Then, work on either removing what causes you unnecessary stress, or training yourself to respond differently to stress.

4. Time is Valuable; Get Off Social Media

Do you ever realize that really, really rich business people are going to work each and every day, actively creating ways to make their apps more addicting for you? They need to get you to give them your time for free, so that they can make money off the chance to get you to buy something from someone else who is paying them. Have you ever thought of it that way?

I’m not saying get off social media entirely. Of course, there are a lot of ways it benefits our lives. It helps us keep in touch, it gives us inspiration and ideas, it helps us spread news quickly. But take what you intend to get from social media, and then LEAVE. Don’t linger around on it for hours and hours after you’ve already gotten your update or inspiration or whatever it is that you wanted for the day.

Make social media work for YOU, not the other way around. Don’t allow mega-rich corporations to suck more time out of you than you intended, causing negatives for your life like:

  • Feeling like a moment isn’t as worth it unless a picture is taken and shared online.
  • Comparing the interesting-ness of your life to others’ (often without even realizing).
  • Eating up time that you could be using to create content of your own, spend time with loved ones, work out, learn something new – the list is truly endless!

5. Always Blame Yourself

Turn every failure into a lesson by blaming every bad outcome you can on yourself*. Even if it’s not your fault, try thinking to yourself, “what could I have done that would have made this not happen?” Then, instead of having something you couldn’t control to complain about, you’ve put the control back in your hands as a lesson going forward. Focus on the lesson, and it might just distract you from wasting negative energy on the part that you can’t control in the first place. Here are some examples:

  • In my last job, I was working an average of twenty hours unpaid overtime per week for about a year. I felt a lot of resentment towards the corporation for getting such an extreme amount of extra labor out of me (and everyone else) for free. I felt robbed. But I eventually decided I really couldn’t blame anyone but myself. I wasn’t being forced to come to work. I wasn’t unaware of the overtime tally. I could have said no at any point and walked out. But I didn’t (at least, not nearly soon enough). The lesson I learned? I can, and should, say no right when I realize I am getting the bad end of the bargain.
  • While vacationing in France, a friend and I got into a moped accident that left my foot pretty messed up. I could have blamed it on my friend, wishing that she never convinced me to drive a moped without any prior instruction. But what good would that have done for me? Would anger at her have made me feel better about my foot? No. I had to blame myself, for not listening to my own judgement, and for my own decision to get on that moped. That way, the situation had a silver lining in that I learned a lesson from it.

*This is NOT applicable for situations of real loss or trauma. This is ONLY meant to apply to smaller inconveniences in life – things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of our lives. I am by no means suggesting you actually blame every bad thing in your life on yourself. I am simply saying, sure, things we don’t like happen, and sometimes it’s not our fault. But by thinking, just for a minute, “OK, knowing what I know now, how could I have changed this outcome?” you allow yourself to have something actionable to take away (positive emotion) instead of simply frustration towards someone or something else (negative emotion). We are trying to avoid stress and negativity at all costs, remember?!?

6. Answers Come from Experience, Not from Thinking

You can sit in your philosophical chair or stare into your crystal ball all you want, trying to envision how something will pan out before making your move. But you’ll never actually get your answer until it’s too late – and that’s OK. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

You’re never going to know if something was the right decision or not until after deciding to do it. You’re never going to know if you will like something or not until after you give it a try. You’re never going to know what you “should” do next, until after you do it and it either works out well or it doesn’t. You have to experience something to get the answer.

The answer might be, “yes that was good,” or it might be, “no that was bad.” Regardless, you win because you got the ANSWER. Teach yourself to become OK with failure by realizing that sometimes usually we have to fail in order to gain access to the correct answer.

7. Live for Yourself

I think two quotes best sum up what I mean with this one:

  • “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” – direct quote: Dave Ramsey, general idea: several sources
  • “Make happiness your goal, not looking happy.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

Live for yourself*. Not for the goals society says should be your goals. Not for the approval (or jealousy) of your peers or superiors. Not for the satisfaction of your parents. Instead of trying to impress other people, instead of trying to prove you are enjoying your life to other people, focus on trying to actually just enjoying your daily life.

Don’t be lazy about enjoying your life. Don’t just hope your happiness just figures itself out on its own someday. Be purposeful in your pursuit of your best life. Figure out what YOU would want for yourself if you hadn’t been force fed all of society’s teachings since birth.

Then, once you figure that out, focus on doing what’s necessary to make your dreams come true. And in that pursuit of making your dreams come true, don’t feel the need to explain yourself to others, or to have your actions make sense to others. Following your path to happiness might mean:

  • Doing a job you don’t want to do for a while.
  • Foregoing time-consuming or money-consuming activities with friends.
  • Temporarily sharing a miserable apartment, or *gasp* moving back in with your parents, to save enough money.
  • Working towards a goal that no one else sees the end picture for.

Follow your path to happiness and live for yourself without concern for what others will think. Blocking out what society tells you and ignoring the natural desire for approval isn’t easy – but practice makes perfect.

* By “live for yourself,” I do not exclude living for a higher purpose. A lot of people want their lives to be for a greater good or a greater power. To me, that’s still living for yourself as I define it, given that the desire to live for a greater good or greater power is your own desire for yourself – not something you are doing to impress or please others.

8. Don’t Be Selfish

What? Didn’t you just say to live for yourself? Yes, live for yourself. Don’t live for the approval or satisfaction of others. But also keep in mind that your life is not only your own. When someone dies, who is affected more? The person who dies, or the people they leave behind? It’s debatable, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I am a firm believer that you don’t owe anyone the outcome they prefer. I’m also a firm believe that feeling like someone’s sole source of happiness is a very unfair position to be put in. You have to do what’s best for you, and you don’t have to apologize for it.

But while you do what’s best for you, simply be aware of how your decisions affect others, and try to be kind about it. Live for yourself, but where possible, try to soften any blows that your life decisions might make to those you care about and those who care about you. Here’s an example thats relevant to me and the people I care about:

  • Are your parents worried about your solo trip? Can you soften the blow by taking a mini trip first to help them see you can do it? Can you commit to video-chatting them once a week or texting them you’re OK every night, at least for the first bit of your trip?

9. Stop Planning Your Life

Once again, I think quotes most-easily portray what I mean:

  • “If you can see your path, laid out in front of you, step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” – Joseph Campbell, emphasis mine
  • “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – song: Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy), written by John Lennon
  • “So, what if, instead of thinking about solving your whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow.” – Rainbow Rowell

I become more and more convinced that planning is the antithesis to truly living. Which is ironic, because I used to be am THE biggest planner. I loved love lists, calendars, itineraries, you name it. As a young kid, I had an idea of how my life should ideally go in order for it to be enjoyable:

  • 18 years old: go to a “good” college
  • 21 years old: graduate from said “good” college
  • 22 years old: start “good” job
  • 26 years old: get engaged
  • 28 years old: buy a large house, drive a BMW, start taking expensive vacations once a year
  • 30 years old: be done having all my kids

By the time I was 22 years old, I had successful crossed off the first three points. One year later, at the age of 23, I started to realize none of them had really made me enjoy life as I was told they would… I could clearly see the remaining path laid out in front of me. It was well-lit, and I could see straight on through to the end. No curves, no hidden bends, no surprises. And that fact alone – that fact that I could clearly see my path – disgusted me. Like truly, truly disgusted me.

I felt like a robot, going through steps someone else had preprogramed for me, and, in case y’all didn’t realize: robots don’t live. Upon this realization, I subsequently mentally crumpled up and threw away my six-bullet-point plan to achieving happiness.

Since then, I’ve been working to get better at going with the flow more often and purposefully leaving room for change of plans. This past year has really put me to the test with regards to that. After quitting my job without a plan, former coworkers and friends and family members alike have all been regularly inquiring, “So? What’s your plan?” I’ve really had to practice not being pressured into creating plans just for the sake of satisfying others with an answer that makes sense to them.

Of course we all need to plan to a certain extent. But I am learning that that “certain extent” is a lot less than we might think.

10. Become OK with Being Alone

If you don’t love your own company, do you really love yourself? I always found it strange as a kid when my school friends would refuse to use the restroom during lunch break unless at least one other girl walked there and back with them. Or when I reached dating age, how certain people seemed to always unnaturally hop straight from serious relationship to serious relationship, almost as if to avoid even a month spent single. As the song goes, “is the only reason you’re holding me tonight ‘cause we’re scared to be lonely?

If you’re spending time with others, whether it’s talking over lunch, or engaging in a romantic relationship, I strongly believe it should be because you want to be spending time with that other human, NOT because you are afraid of spending time with yourself.

Now, I’ve never been one who had trouble walking to the restroom alone or remaining single. But for a long time, I had no desire to ever travel alone to certain destinations. For certain places, like big cities with museums and shopping centers, I was fine going solo. But for places meant for swimming or lounging, I just didn’t see how I would ever find that enjoyable alone. I passed up opportunities to see such places because I wanted to wait until I could go with people.

Well, as mentioned earlier, I learned my lesson this year that I can’t depend on other people to help my dreams come true. All of the sudden, solo travel as a concept became so much more attractive to me. Ironically, solo travel also taught me the very opposite – that I shouldn’t get too used to spending time alone. Human beings are wired to be social, and it’s important not to get too comfortable with the freedom of deciding everything on your own.

What are Your Thoughts?

So, those are the ten lessons I’ve learned over the past twelve months since leaving the corporate world. I haven’t mastered every lesson yet, but they are all things I strive to practice more and more each day. I would love to hear what you disagree with and what you agree with from the above! Let me know in the comments section below.

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Should you quit your job? I had to make that decision 1 year ago. These are the lessons I learned since.
Should you quit your job? I had to make that decision 1 year ago. These are the lessons I learned since.
Should you quit your job? I had to make that decision 1 year ago. These are the lessons I learned since.

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